So High A Blood explores in detail the life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox, a Tudor princess without whom, perhaps, there would have been no Stewart succession and no subsequent union between England and Scotland.
Born in 1515, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, by her second husband Archibald Douglass, the Earl of Lennox. Her life in many echoes that of her cousins, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The stain of bastardy hung over her birth, owing to the complex legal status of her parents marriage, and she was herself at times close to the English succession under both Henry VIII and Mary. She was reported to believe her own claim to throne stronger than Elizabeth’s, comments which helped earned her a spell in prison when Elizabeth came to hear of them.
It wasn’t only her alleged bastardy that stood in Margaret’s way. She remained a devout Catholic, and she was both English and Scottish, to the discomfort of all, it seems. Margaret was born in England while her mother was in temporary exile and would spend most of her life here. However, her estates were largely in Scotland – even if she wasn’t always able to assert her ownership of them, or of their revenues. As such, she was uniquely ill-positioned to manipulate events in either country to her advantage.
That did not stop her trying, however. What she couldn’t achieve for herself, she aimed to do for her children. Of the eight she gave birth to, only two survived to adulthood. One of those, Henry, Lord Darnley, was murdered aged 21, less than two years into his marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots. Margaret had connived to bring the two together – which Elizabeth saw as part of a plot to overthrow her and had Margaret committed to the Tower as a result – and, you could argue, her work was ultimately vindicated: it was Darnley’s brief marriage to Mary that produced James I of England.
Morgan Ring has written an absorbing account of Margaret’s life, and has found a fresh angle from which to view the Tudor court, which is no mean feat. If at times Margaret herself seems to fade from the scene as tumultuous events at both courts take centre stage, that is perhaps only fitting for a woman who had to fight all her life for what she believed to be her due.
This review first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement.
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